The top two sides in the Aviva Premiership will go head to head at Twickenham on Tuesday 27 December, writes Features Editor – Sarah Mockford. It’s Harlequins’ fourth Big Game at the home of English rugby, with reigning champions Saracens this year’s opponents. We met up with four promising young players set to take to the hallowed turf to talk games, goals and, er, girls…
Rugby World: Do you enjoy playing in games at big stadiums like Twickenham?
Luke Wallace: It’s something that doesn’t happen every day and it’s exciting to play in a different atmosphere. For us four looking to play for England in the future it’s great to play in that environment.
Joe Gray: 70,000 is not your usual crowd. Last year there was a huge atmosphere with so many Quins fans there. It’s a big day out at Christmas and with X Factor stars and fireworks, families get involved. It’s a big occasion and if you want to play at a higher level, playing at Twickenham puts you in good stead for that.
Andy Saull: Guys who come from successful clubs overseas love the big-game atmosphere and it suits our squad massively.
Brad Barritt: Big games are what you thrive on as a player. The Wembley experience with Saracens has been amazing – it’s a unique rugby atmosphere. Saracens have done a great job with the rugby and the off-field entertainment.
RW: Is there an extra buzz playing in front of that many people?
AS: I think so. Average rugby crowds are nowhere near that size, so when you play at Wembley or Twickenham in front of 50,000 people you feel the importance of the big occasion.
JG: Fireworks, kicking off in front of thousands of Quins fans, it’s a massive buzz. The hair stands up on the back of your neck. It’s amazing and hopefully it’ll be a good game against Saracens.
BB: There’s a buzz and an excitement. It’s a unique experience playing in a big stadium with a big crowd for one of those games. We’ve only lost one game we’ve played at Wembley and it shows we’re a team that thrives on the big occasion.
LW: I’ve not played in a Big Game before but watching on the day makes you want to be out there playing. It’s a great atmosphere.
RW: Is there a big rivalry between the London teams?
LW: All the young players at London clubs know each other quite well because they’ve come through the system together. I went to school with James Short.
JG: Yes, I know Alex Goode and Andy Saull through England sides. I’m sure there’ll be a bit of text banter before the game and then we’ll have a beer afterwards. There aren’t many sports where you can do that. We play hard but we’ll catch up after. It’ll be a top-of-the-table clash too.
AS: We’re one and two in the table so come 27 December it’ll be a massive game and that will motivate both teams.
BB: Winning is all that counts in professional sport and Quins have a winning edge at the minute. Conor O’Shea is doing a good job. Each team brings their own strengths and weaknesses, and Quins are a top team at the moment. We have respect for them and we’ll show that respect by giving our all on the field.
RW: Do you think it’s good that your clubs are giving young players a chance?
JG: I moved to Quins from Northampton because I wasn’t getting as many opportunities as I’d like and Conor O’Shea puts time into youth. The great thing about the club is the youngsters. Look at our centres – George Lowe and Jordan Turner-Hall are only 22 and 23. You know they wouldn’t put you in unless you could do it and that gives you a lot of confidence.
LW: The key thing is that the experienced guys are still young; they’ve been playing in the Premiership for four or five years even though they’re young. I started six games in a row at the start of the season, which was unexpected and it was nice to string a set of performances together. It showed I was ready and good enough to play at that level, which gives me confidence.
AS: It’s been helped recently by the financial situation. Clubs are putting in younger guys coming through from the academy as opposed to overseas players. During the World Cup it was brilliant to see youngsters stepping up and filling in for international boys. I’m only 23 but I see myself as one of the older players here now! There’s such a wealth of young talent here and so many young players coming through.
BB: It’s a good model for success to have younger guys pushing the older guys. You need that mix of experience and youth, and that contributes to the team’s success.
RW: Describe your team-mate as a player and a person…
LW: As a player, Joe’s a hard worker and is solid in everything a hooker should be. As a person, he’s very laid-back, but he’s always lying about girls.
JG: He’s just jealous because I have so many good chat-up lines!
LW: He makes up lies about being involved with girls! Apart from that he’s a good guy.
JG: Luke’s very hard-working, as every good seven should be. He’s a great tackler and gets over the ball like a traditional seven. As a person, he’s got long hair and that says a lot about him. He’s proud of it and spends a lot of time in front of the mirror. He also wears a pink hairband and always has hair bobbles on his wrist. He does struggle with girls. He asks them what conditioners they use!
BB: Saully is a decent, morally upstanding gentleman – every lady’s dream! He’s a brilliant player and has proved that over many seasons. He has great attacking flair as a loose forward, wins numerous turnovers for the club at the breakdown, is a great competitor and is a very effective and destructive tackler. He also has a propensity for s*** banter with girls. He once sent a round of drinks over to a group of girls and when they looked over gave them a salute!
AS: That’s a big rugby myth – but it’s actually true!
BB: To be fair they came over and it worked out well for him.
AS: As for Brad, personally I think he’s been very unlucky with England selection. If you look at the players that went to the World Cup, not many rugby fans would disagree with the fact that he deserved to be in the mix.
BB: Thanks Saully.
AS: His rugby ability is brilliant and he has skills that people don’t credit him with. He has the ability to get over the gain-line on front-foot ball and he puts in big tackles in defence. He also has the ability to step in at first receiver having played fly-half with the Sharks. He’s very hospitable, too, and always invites the boys round for food. He likes to go out in London and is very social. He’s very well-balanced.
RW: After his story about you Andy, is there a funny tale you want to tell about Brad?
AS: He’s not allowed to do one of the warm-up drills before games now because he’s knocked out two players and left another two needing stitches. That’s how psyched up he is before a game – he takes out his own team-mates!
BB: It’s a sidestepping drill. I’ve gone one way and four people have somehow collided with my elbow this season. The backs find it quite funny that I now have to do stuff on my own.
RW: What do you get up to off the field?
AS: I’m learning to play the guitar. I’ve been doing it for a year and a half and there’s a group of ten or 12 of us here that play. I finished my degree in financial economics last season, so now I’m looking into different avenues of work experience with our off-field programme.
BB: I’m studying business management. I’m in a study group with Justin Melck, Steve Borthwick and Hayden Smith. I like to think Borthers and myself carry the other two! Justin Melck’s always asking for my notes. I live in North London so I also like to go to a show from time to time or to go out for food – I’ve got a sophisticated palate.
JG: I play Call of Duty. I have to help Luke – he’s terrible.
LW: He’s having a joke. I’ve looked at his scores on-line and they’re awful. I completed the new one on the first day – it only took me five hours.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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